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Mike Raffone on street performance, Dada and his cabaret club for misfits

Mike Raffone bills himself as an “Eccentric Entertainer”.

I saw his Brain Rinse show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – it was billed as ‘Puppetry of The Audience’ – and I went to his monthly Cabaret Rinse club at the Elephant & Castle in London last month. It is wonderfully unpredictable. The next one is this coming Friday.

“Why,” I asked, “was your Fringe show called Brain Rinse and your London club is called Cabaret Rinse?”

“Because, hopefully it rinses your brain. Not a brainwash. Just a mild rinse.”

“How would you describe Cabaret Rinse?”

“A club for misfits. We did a similar thing about five years ago in Peckham for about six months – The Royal National Theatre of Fools. I just decided we needed a National Theatre for idiots, but it proved quite an expensive hobby.”

Cabaret Rinse is all variety acts,” I said. “Not stand-up comedy…”

The ringmaster of anarchic entertainment – Mike Raffone

“Well,” Mike responded, “what is stand-up? Cabaret Rinse is comedy definitely. Funny definitely. Out there for sure. Interesting I hope. Entertaining I hope.

“When we did Theatre of Fools, we did have a secret non-stand-up policy. We don’t have that with Cabaret Rinse. Last month we had Candy Gigi. You could say she’s a stand-up, but… she’s one in a million, really. There’s bits of stand-up but bits of brilliant clowning. I see that in all the people I like.”

“Candy Gigi is wonderful,” I said, “but I’m a bit wary of the way people use the word ‘clowning’ nowadays.”

“I hate the way the word is used,” said Mike.

“Why?”

“It’s the connotation. The art aesthetic. I think great clowning tends to be anarchistic. I would say The Greatest Show on Legs is great clowning. Or Ken Campbell’s Roadshow.”

“I agree with you,” I said, “that The Greatest Show on Legs ARE clowns, but I’m not quite sure why.”

“I think it’s well rehearsed,” said Mike, “but it looks like it’s thrown together.”

Greatest Show on Legs’ balloon dance in 2012

“Well,” I said, “with the Balloon Dance, the exact choreography is complicated and vital because it builds and it’s all about narrowly missing seeing the bits.”

“Ragged but in a great way,” agreed Mike. “It was by far the most hysterical thing that whole Fringe when I saw them in 2012.”

“Well,” I said, “they feel a bit like street performers but are not, though Martin Soan did start The Greatest Show on Legs as an adult Punch & Judy act. You, though, are basically a street performer at heart.”

“I dunno about ‘at heart’,” Mike replied. “I’m a performer at heart. But I’ve certainly done a lot of street performing. With Cabaret Rinse and Brain Rinse the idea is to take the energy and instantaneous edginess of street performing – of What the fuck is going to happen? – but NOT just do a street show indoors.

“Street theatre is so specific to where it is. There’s load of people there shopping and I’m gonna grab their attention. It’s the big trick. It’s grabbing the attention. If it’s a joke, it cannot be a subtle one. Everything’s big.  So I want to bring that kind of bigness and edginess and freshness into a – not an arty but a – theatrical setting.”

“You trained as an actor,” I said.

“…a misfit theatre course…”

“I remember, when I was a kid, around 16, ushering for my local theatre and seeing the Cardiff Lab and thinking This is weird. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. This guy is scary but I love it. Wow! This is incredible! 

“Then I did a theatre degree at Leicester Polytechnic which was a bit of a misfit theatre course. It was run by this guy – a little bit of a maverick – who wanted to make his own theatre school – a bit like Jacques Lecoq – and he didn’t want it to be conventional. But he also realised the only way he could get funding at that time – in the mid-1980s – was to hide behind the auspices of an academic institution.

“His philosophy was that he was going to run the course but try and have as little as possible to do with the bureaucratic workings of the polytechnic. I got to see things like Footsbarn. It was a very practical, creative course and I think I got a taste there for theatre that was out of the ordinary.”

“So you got a taste for the bizarre.”

“Yes. I got into street theatre 30 years ago. I remember going down to Covent Garden and seeing street shows – it was all quite new then – and thinking: I don’t have the balls to do that. But, within a month, I was doing it. Covent Garden was quite interesting at that time in the late 1980s. It was sort of mixing with New Variety.”

Mike Raffone, street entertainer, performing at the Covent Garden Piazza in London

“So you thought you could not do it but then started doing it?”

“There was a guy who dragged me into it because he wanted to do it. He was like a dancer and acrobat. So we put this terrible show together, did it for about three shows and then he fucked off. But, by then, I had my street performer’s licence.

“We did go to Paris and see this man called Bananaman, who was this mad bloke who collected junk and then played music with it outside the Pompidou Centre. It was all in French. And then he hit this real banana and smashed it and everyone just thought he was mad. Apparently he was seen in Paris as the world’s worst street performer, but I thought: Wow! That’s alternative!”

Mike has learned to conduct himself well in performance

“What did he hit the banana with?”

“A stick. To me it was an act of Dada.

“I thought it was brilliant. So we went back to Covent Garden and decided we were going to create a police car out of rubbish. We got all this rubbish and two half-arsed costumes together and the idea was it would look terrible. Other street performers came up to us and said: Right, here’s a bit of advice – Get yourself some proper costumes because, frankly, it just looks like rubbish at the moment. And we said: No! That’s the POINT!

“The word anarchy,” I said, “might put some people off. But, if you say Dada, it sounds arty and acceptable and respectable. What does Dada mean?”

“Meaningless… I suppose I like it when you take it to the max, If you are truly going to be Dada, I suppose you have to be anti-everything. Anti-script. Anti-comedy. Anti-anti-comedy.”

His autobiography – Hitting The Cobbles

“Being a street performer, though,” I suggested, “is quite disciplined. You have to be half performer and half barrowboy/street market trader. You have to grab the punters’ attention at  the start and tout for money at the end, with a performance bunged in the middle. So, in theory, you could transfer the actual performance indoors if you remove the ‘selling’ element.”

“I would agree with that.”

“Except that the selling,” I said, “is an integral part of the street performance.”

“Well,” replied Mike, “they say you ‘sell’ a joke and I’m very aware of how I am going to set up any part of the performance. I am quite analytical about selling the material. I don’t know if it’s my inbuilt insecurity as a performer, but I so see myself as a writer. I think: This has got to work on paper or it won’t work in performance. That’s probably not the case, but it’s how I see it. I write everything down, even if it is just: We will be improvising at this point. It’s some weird fear.”

“So you are not a Dadaist really,” I said, “because you want everything written-down and organised in advance.”

“No, I don’t think I’m a Dadaist.”

“An absurdist?” I asked.

“I don’t know. To me, if it’s funny, it’s funny. I remember years ago I was called a post-modernist street performer. I didn’t quite know what it meant.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. We’re done. Where are you going now?”

“I’m going to a museum. It’s putting on a Dada cabaret… All I want is a bicycle hooked up to a whoopee cushion and, when people ride fast enough, it makes the whoopee cushion fart. That’s all I want.”

But what about his name – Mike Raffone?

Is it his stage name or his real name?

Say it out loud.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 4: a ferociously funny comic & a Fringe legend returns

Becky Rimmer was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah

Today, I saw the ferociously funny – and I do mean ferocious – Candy Gigi Present Becky Rimmer’s Bat Mitzvah!

Then the incongruity of Pat Cahill expertly controlling a full room with a fishing rod and stories intermittently about being The Fisherman

Other highlights were The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!!

The Fringe Office tried to ban him from using two exclamation marks in that title, but he claimed the second one was artistically vital and they backed down. In this show, his surreal creativity continues to inch towards the more personal material which I think may eventually break him Big, as our American cousins might say…

Over ten years in casinos and dry vegetables

I rounded off the evening with a large audience and a small dog listening to impressive storyteller Matthew Harrison explain what his show title Fuck Me Like Dry Vegetable has to do with his ten-year career in the UK casino business.

In fact, the censorious Fringe Office has insisted his show be called F*ck Me Like Dry Vegetable. That’s really disguising the word, good ’n’ proper!

With over 3,500 shows and around 50,000 performers in town during the Fringe, flyering to get audiences is vital and, very often it ends up with performers flyering other performers.

I bumped into Italian comic Luca Cupani at Fringe Central this morning.

Luca Cupani with the surprising flyer today

“I was flyering in the street,” he told me, “and there was this beautiful girl. She gave me her flyer and I gave her mine. I asked her: When is your show? She said: From seven to one. Which I did not understand but, when she left, I looked at her flyer and it took me a while to understand it was not normal. I thought she must be a very clever comedian telling jokes half-naked to challenge sexism. You know those kind of things they do. But no. Then I realised the truth.”

Highlight of my day, though, was to receive an email from 2007 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds. The last I heard of him, he had sold his canal boat in Nottingham or somewhere similar and disappeared off the face of the earth. His e-mail read:


The great Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds

I am still alive. Just.

I have a sister.

Foolishly, she has decided to become a stand up comedian.

It will end in tears.

She is like me. but better.

She is playing at Edinburgh Fringe.

She is called Jeanette Bird-Bradley.

Her show is Context, People! at the Bourbon Bar, 5th-13th August.

Thank you for the good memories. I still treasure my Malcolm Hardee Award.

I hope the last decade has treated you well.

Your humble servant

dokctor cocacolamcdoanlds


Kate Copstick’s chip price was an unPleasance surprise

I returned to the Edinburgh flat to find Copstick complaining. No surprise there.

She had had a small plate of chips at the Pleasance Courtyard at lunchtime which cost her almost 10p per chip. Par for the course in Edinburgh at Fringe time.

But not even that diminished the joy of hearing again from the great Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds…

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Edinburgh’s Fringe and Montreal’s Just For Laughs: the same but very different

Luca Cupani yesterday in Edinburgh

Luca Cupani was back in Edinburgh yesterday

Yesterday I chatted to Italian comedian Luca Cupani. He had just come back from representing the UK at Canada’s Just For Laughs festival in Montreal.

He – Italian comedian Luca Cupani – had been officially representing the UK along with Japanese comic Yuriko Kotani. Although he had not actually encountered Yuriko over there but had seen Danish comedian Sofie Hagen.

“Perhaps Danish comedian Sofie Hagen,” I suggested, “was representing the UK instead of Japanese comedian Yuriko Kotani.”

“That could be,” said Luca.

“How was Just For Laughs?” I asked.

“I feel like a nun who goes to an erotic fair who comes back to the nunnery with a bag full of dildoes and she doesn’t even know if they are dildoes. I realised only at the end how big it was.”

“Just For Laughs?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Luca.

“Just checking,” I said.

“I met this person,” continued Luca, “and these people and that person and they were approachable. I found out that the more important they are, the more easy they are to talk with because they are resolved: they are happy.”

“It was different from the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

Luca’s current show at the Fringe

Luca’s current Confessions show at the Fringe

“Well,” said Luca, “the Fringe is all on the shoulders of the performers. You do your show and, among the punters, there might be some industry people. But the industry it is hidden; you don’t see them. In Montreal it is more visible – the industry. The companies, they promote the shows, they invite people and then the punters come. It is on the same level as Edinburgh but different.

“And they are Americans and Canadians, so the least experienced comedians there have maybe had sold-out tours across the USA. If you have a sold-out tour in the UK, you have maybe been to 10 or 12 cities. There, they have filled arenas across 40 or 50 cities. It gave me a sneak-peek into the real world and the fact there is a chance to make a living out of comedy.”

Luca’s current Fringe show is The Admin of Death and Other Confessions in the 40-seat BlundaBus.

Yesterday was a normal day for me in Edinburgh. It spat with rain occasionally and, in the streets, I bumped into perhaps 10-15 people I knew. Plus 3 people with whom I had longish conversations and whom I have clearly met in the past but I had no idea who they were. Not even after longish conversations. It is difficult to probe too deeply without asking outright: “Just who the hell exactly are you?”

I blame a combination of a lack of sleep and too much Red Bull.

Many Godden as Moses

Marny Godden, as Moses, met Japanese John

All I know clearly is that I saw Marny Godden’s multi-character-based show Where’s John’s Porridge Bowl? in which she starts dressed as Moses with beard, staff etc and riskily but successfully kept picking on three Japanese punters in the front row as audience participants despite the fact two had limited English. One of them went into such extended giggles at one point that Marny rightly just looked at her for around ten seconds. The main picked-upon Japanese was a triumph of unlikely audience-choice who joined-in enthusiastically while one of his chums videoed it on a smartphone.

Charlie Dinkin

Charlie Dinkin – with tales of headless snails and swastikas

Good punters also helped Charlie Dinkin’s show Can’t when one member of the audience volunteered that her mother enjoys killing snails by drowning them in beer then cutting their heads off. Charlie fought back with the real-life surreality of a night she spent with a member of the Bullingdon Club involving swastikas.

Who said 1960s-style events were dead?

Highlight of the day, though, was seeing Candy Gigi’s show If I Had a Rich Man.

Candy Gigi (with carrots) and a meaty comedy show

Candy Gigi with carrots and a meaty comedy show

Last week, I booked her to sing on the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe – on the basis that, from previous shows I had seen, I knew she could sing and it would be unexpected.

When I first saw her perform a few years ago doing 10-minute spots involving hysteria and desperate vegetable-eating, I thought she was wonderfully original.

Once seen, forever remembered. But I did wonder how on earth she could develop the act beyond 10 minutes.

She proved me wrong when she did a half hour Fringe show two years ago, still based heavily around hysteria and vegetables but which was held together by force of personality. For that, she won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award for Comic Originality.

She is now back at the Fringe with an extraordinarily original full-length show which holds together and, indeed, has a climax. I can only describe it as a surprisingly dark and surreal autobiographical Jewish musical. Because, unknown in advance to me, this show turned out to be a part-belted-out-with-full-force comedy with blow-your-head-off songs. Whether her voice will last to the end of the Fringe, I don’t know.

Because of the singing and the occasionally quite dark mostly autobiographical narrative it is a different act, though vegetables do make a late and always-welcome appearance.

If I were a hack and desperate writer, I would say there is now comedy meat among her vegetables.

But I am, of course, not.

So I won’t.

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Edinburgh Fringe: some shows, a man dangling from a bridge and a romance

Passing performer Richard Gadd prepares to punch comic Joz Norris yesterday

Performer Richard Gadd (right) appeared to be preparing to punch comic Joz Norris in an Edinburgh street yesterday

My yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe started with a Danish man playing the bagpipes and ended with a policeman.

There were stunts along the way, but none of them cunning stunts.

I saw seven shows yesterday. Five of them were:

Claus Reis: Return of the Danish Bagpipe Comedian
The show works, but there’s a presentation problem. If your USP is confounding expectations by being a Danish bagpiper and you dress up in a kilt and traditional Scots piper costume and you look fairly Scottish, then there is no real visual USP. Naff as it may sound, you should be wearing Viking horns or some equally stock cliché Danish costume while playing the pipes.

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Chicken Soup
Last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award winner for comic originality. This year, she has developed the madness, adding in more glimpses of her acting and great singing voice and, yesterday, picked a perfect punter to unleash her insanity on. She handled him so well, I thought he might be a plant. He wasn’t. It was like watching a mescaline-crazed Cilla Black. Her shows tread a narrow line between sunshine and darkness.

Joz Norris: Hey Guys!
Always talented and charismatic, Joz’s new show now holds together as an entity. Tremendously enjoyable, with hints of a genuinely interesting autobiographical back story. If he has the nerve to increase the true stories while retaining the surrealism, he could break through massively. Perfect TV face.

Martha McBrier: Pigeon Puncher
It is easy to think she is ‘just’ a naturally very, very funny storyteller, but there is a lot of preparation and an enormous talent in audience control behind this show and her performance. Very very very funny indeed.

Bob Slayer conducting business on his BlundaBus

Bob Slayer conducting his BlundaBus show

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus: Never Mind the BusStops
With anyone else, this unplanned rambling shambles of comic chattery in a double decker bus would be a car crash. With Bob (nominally) in charge, it still is – but that is the point of it. It’s a success! Not so much as a show but as an event.

Nathan (right, in red) with his de Lorean

Nathan (right, in red) with DeLorean before the wind came


In among all the above, I also went to the Three Sisters pub in the Cowgate, where Nathan Cassidy had managed to get hold of and park a DeLorean car to plug his Back To The Future trilogy of shows.

People could wear the hero’s red jacket and get photographed in the car and the bonnet was covered in flyers for Nathan’s shows: a good stunt undercut by the fact this is eternally-windy Edinburgh and occasional gusts blew the flyers off the bonnet into the street.

On second thoughts, though, perhaps that was not a negative factor. That was publicity. This is the Fringe.

John Robertson: The Dark Room in the underbelly

John Robertson: very Dark in The Underbelly

Walking away from that, I bumped into John Robertson in a rubber suit (no change there, then) plugging his Dark Room show… and then photographer Garry Platt, who has been wandering round photographing shows and events.

As Garry and I wandered off, I looked up. The Old Town of Edinburgh is built on two levels. Above out heads was the George IV Bridge from which a giant trapeze was dangling and a young gent was climbing down a rope towards it.

I said to a girl standing on the pavement: “He has eleven minutes to kill himself.”

“What?” she said, slightly surprised.

“I have to leave in ten minutes,” I explained, “so he only has eleven minutes to fall onto the road and plug whatever show it is by killing himself.”

It turned out she was doing the PR for the show.

The dangling Dolls duo above the Cowgate (Photograph  by Garry Platt)

Dolls duo dangling dangerously above the Cowgate yesterday (Photographs by Garry Platt)

The young man dangled and was followed by a young woman who dangled. They both dangled. By the time I left, a fair crowd had gathered on the bridge above and on both the pavements below to watch them dangle.

The traffic slowed as drivers looked up and small flyers were handed out to publicise the show Dolls.

But I think, to be truly effective, it needed a banner dangling from the bridge itself, above the two dangling trapeze people risking their lives for a line in The Scotsman.

Semi-ironically, the next event I went to was a 90-minute event publicising Death on the Fringe, an umbrella organisation which I blogged about last month.

It aims to stimulate discussion of death, end-of-life issues, bereavement and grief.

It was held in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in the Medical School building of Edinburgh Universally.

All the talk was of death, terminal illnesses and mortality, but it seemed strangely refreshing amid the incestuous atmosphere of egos swirling around in the streets outside.

There have been sadly few cunning stunts so far this year.

Mark Dean Quinn - King of Fringe Flyerers

Mark Dean Quinn – King of Fringe Flyerers

But I bumped into Mark Dean Quinn yesterday. Last year, he got a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nomination for his flyering techniques.

This year, he is mostly plugging his own show More Observation Without Comedy Is Not On Today about which he was strangely quiet, perhaps because it does not start until ten days time and is only on for two days. But he is also plugging Ben Target’s show Imagine There’s No Ben Target (It’s Easy If You Try) by handing out imaginary flyers and paper bags which say:

A BAG IN WHICH TO PLACE
YOUR IMAGINARY FLYER FOR
IMAGINE THERE’S NO BEN
TARGET (IT’S EASY IF YOU TRY)

3pm
THE HIVE
WEAR SENSIBLE SHOES

“How does Ben Target pronounce Ben Target?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Mark, “he pronounces Target as target and Tarjay as tarjay

“Each day,” Mark told me, Ben has given me a precise number of people he wants me to get into his show by flyering.”

“A different number each day?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Mark.

“What,” I asked, “happens if you miss the target for Ben Target?”

“Well, I don’t intend to fail on any particular day, because I’m sure there will be serious ramifications and I have seen what he carries in his suitcase.”

Janey Godley in suitcase

Janey Godley in a suitcase. There is no Ben Target on view

“What does he carry in his suitcase?” I asked.

“I have signed an actual written document to say I can’t say what’s in it, but it’s quite special.”

“Is the penalty different,” I asked if you are over or under on the audience numbers?”

“If you want to find out what the penalty is – and see what’s in the suitcase – come to the show at 3.00pm at The Hive daily, you’ll actually see the inside.”

Now THAT is effective promotion with a hint of cunning stunt.

As I walked back to my flat at around 2.00am last night/this morning, I turned down a side street. On the other side, walking in the opposite direction, back into the centre of Edinburgh, were a ballerina and a policeman hand-in-hand. They were not publicising anything. Just happy to be with each other.

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Jim Davidson on being “racist, sexist, homophobic” – and Operation Yewtree

Candy Gigi being advised by Jim Davidson  last night while critic Kate Copstick appears to have a fit in the background

Candy Gigi with Jim Davidson last night while comedy critic Kate Copstick appears to have fit

Who makes a good chat show host? Someone who can ask difficult questions and get revealing answers without the interviewee really noticing.

Last night, I went to Bob Slayer’s Christmas pop-up venue – Heroes Grotto of Comedy – in the City of London, where Scott Capurro and his friend David Mills were hosting their chat show. Their guests were London mayoral candidate Ivan Massow, 2014 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Candy Gigi and British comedy legend Jim Davidson. An interestingly eclectic trio.

Before anyone complains – as I am sure they will – about what follows. I myself would have mentioned an alleged incident of wife-beating. But this is not my interview.

Scott Capurro met Jim Davidson for the first time at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Last night he asked Jim why he had stayed at a hotel out by Edinburgh Airport.

“I thought I don’t want to get involved with everybody,” said Jim, “but, more than that, I didn’t want to go in a club and get blanked.”

“Did that happen to you?” Scott asked.

“Well, it did a bit,” said Jim.

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Jim’s Edinburgh Fringe show this year

“We went to the performers’ bar at the Gilded Balloon,” Scott explained to the audience, “and a couple of comics said: Why did you bring Jim in here? I said: Because it’s a public bar and he’s a comic. Why the fuck are you here? Why don’t you fuck off if you don’t like him? These were people who had not seen his live performance. But they had made up their minds about who he was.”

“I am,” admitted Jim, “regarded as an old school/ racist/ sexist/ homophobic horrible person. I understand the perception of me. I really do understand that. Perception, yeah. How many times have we said: I fuckin’ hate that bloke and you meet them and they’re absolutely wonderful? What you’ve done is you’ve spent all that time wasting emotion.

“I’m the bad guy,” said Jim. “When Bernard Manning died, they had to have someone else. Someone said to me: Jim, you’re the bad guy, because it makes other people better by default.

“I have always been unhappy to be called homophobic because it’s fucking annoying. The racist thing I can get because I used to do jokes about black people and it’s a bit more sensitive than doing jokes about gay people.”

“The night I saw your show in Edinburgh,” said Scott, “there was a wheelchair guy in the front row – and a blind person.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “What’s the point of a fucking blind person being on the front row? That’s what I actually said to him. He could sit and face the fucking wall and…”

“Do you,” asked Scott, “revel in that sort of…”

“Yeah. I do,” replied Jim. “Don’t you? You do.”

“Yeah,” said Scott.

“This is it, right?” said Jim. “In the front row here tonight, we’ve got an Australian, a mad woman, a baldy man, a blonde girl and a person that’s wearing boots that are too young for them. Let’s say we also have someone in a wheelchair…

(From left) David Mills, Jim Davidson, Scott Capurro last night

(L-R) David Mills, Jim Davidson and Scott Capurro last night

“What you do is try and get that person in the wheelchair involved. Include him rather than take the piss. But what happens is some fucking Guardian-reading leftie that wants an excuse to hate me might say: Jim took the piss out of a man in a wheelchair. So do you take that chance? I do. And then I get slagged off for it. I hate it. I hate it. But I can’t stop myself. I want to include people. I don’t want to take he piss out of someone in a wheelchair: that’s fucking easy. I want to include the person… Include the person.”

“The really disabled people,” said David Mills, “are people who have got no sense of humour.”

“A blind man can still see a good joke,” said Jim.

“Some comics think,” said Scott, “if you do an accent, immediately that’s racist.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “What’s that all about? I don’t get that.”

“You did a brilliant accent in Edinburgh.”

“The West Indian thing? Or the Indian thing?”

“The Indian guy.”

“This is true. I don’t care if you think this is racist or not. My mate in Dubai was a Sikh and he had (at this point, Jim started to imitate the accents) a real broad Glaswegian accent. He had a brown face, didn’t wear a turban and could drink like a fish. Halfway through drinking, his accent became slightly Indian and then it became Scottish but still Indian and, at the end of the evening, it was totally Indian but with a Scottish personality – Who you fuckin’ looking at, ya cunt?

“Someone said: How Seventies is that – thinking that Indian people are funny? But how fucking insulting is that?

“I’ll tell you where my West Indian character Chalky comes from. I used to do jokes about West Indian kids I went to school with and it was 1976/1977 Blackpool, Little & Large – remember them?

Little and Large with Susie Silvey in the 1980s.

Little and Large with Susie Silvey in the 1980s.

“They had a manager and, when I did this West Indian accent, he said: Oh, fuck me, we can’t have this! It was never offensive in my mind and people would laugh their heads off at it. But he said You’ve gotta drop that and the producer said Why don’t you make it one character and make that character someone everyone can laugh at, even the black people in the audience? So Chalky was based around my mates: all the black kids I went to school with had West Indian accents. Chalky was a character to be loved. I didn’t invent that character to ridicule anybody and, if I have ridiculed anybody, I apologise from the bottom of my heart. He was made to be loved. He was Dennis The Menace. He was Minnie The Minx.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception of me and I’ve got to take that on the chin. I’ve done well, I’ve been doing this for forty years. I’ve afforded four divorces.”

Jim was arrested under Operation Yewtree, the police investigation following sex revelations about the late Jimmy Savile.

“I thought Yewtree was fucking great when it started off,” said Jim last night, “because it was arresting all those funny people at the BBC that I didn’t particularly like. And then Freddie Starr got arrested and I thought: This is ridiculous. I think he’s the greatest act I’ve ever seen: I mean, really, really old school but brilliant.

“There were about twelve reporters outside my house every day for a couple of weeks. The police investigation lasted a year. Everyone knew it was not for under-aged sex and everyone knew I was a bit of jack-the-lad and a pretty easy target. I’ve never hid the fact I like girls. But I think arresting me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People started to realise: Hang on a bit; it’s getting silly.”

Jim explained that one woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by him at the London Palladium later (after he had provided evidence to the police) changed her story to having been assaulted at the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion. He says a policeman questioning him over another charge said:

You came off the stage at The Green Man in the Old Kent Road and you saw a woman there with a short skirt on and a garter belt hanging down under her skirt and you twanged her garter belt. Can you remember doing that?

“In 1978?

“Yes.

“I can’t remember doing that.

“Is that something you would have done?

“Yeah, probably. And then what? Then I sexually assaulted her?

“No. That IS the sexual assault that we have arrested you for.

“And that’s how it went on,” Jim said. “It cost me a year and about £500,000 and, at the end of it, they said: No further action. They didn’t say sorry or anything. It was horrible. Horrible.”

“What is the motivation of the accusers?” Scott asked.

“No idea” said Jim. “Schadenfreude? I really think that’s what it is. How dare he have such a good life when I’ve had such a shit life. And there’s a lot of bandwagon jumping. But it’s not for me to say.”

“Did you,” asked Scott, “believe in the legal system before this?”

“I still believe in it,” said Jim. “I don’t think the police had any alternative but to investigate. I read the other day that the Inspector of Constabulary said that the police should record more crimes. Someone can go in and say blah-blah-blah and it’s got to be put down as a crime and the person is arrested before the interrogation. I think that’s the wrong way round. I think, in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. But I’m not going to shout out about it because I’m frightened to. I don’t want to rock the boat and that’s the truth.”

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I saw an iPhone in a plastic box today and a brilliant comedy show last night

Today’s iPhone with sound enhancer

Today’s iPhone with sound enhancer amplifier

Before today’s blog, here is an addendum to yesterday’s…

My eternally-un-named friend who, in yesterday’s blog, came up with a cheap sound amplifier for iPads has today come up with a similar amplifier for iPhones. Basically, it involves putting the iPhone inside a larger plastic food container.

My newly-installed iGlass sound system

The iGlass sound system from two years ago

Personally, I think her idea of two years ago of putting the iPhone inside a funnel-shaped glass is more elegant and more in keeping with Apple’s design ethics.

It is a matter of style.

Anyway…

I have never been able to get my head round what it must be like for performers to triumph on stage. They have got the audience into such a state that there are laughs, tears, whatever. But, once that moment and that emotion is achieved, it is gone forever if it is not filmed or videoed. A live performance is perhaps seen fleetingly by a few hundred people and certainly within a few years is barely remembered in any detail. Indeed, perhaps that happens within a couple of days or a couple of hours.

A show that is recorded can be seen by thousands – potential millions – of people who were never there – and long after all who were there are dead.

No-one who was not there can ever know how good a particular show was unless it is recorded.

Lost – to quote Blade Runner – like tears in rain.

Which came to my mind because, last night, I saw what is certainly one of the five best live shows I have seen in, let’s say, the last five years.

It was one of the monthly, always fascinating, Pull The Other One comedy club shows in London’s Nunhead.

In roughly  alphabetical order, the acts were:

  • Candy Gigi Markham… This year’s winner of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. I was sitting next to Mark Kelly (he writes with Jo Brand) who asked me beforehand what her act was like. I could do no better than quote that piece in Metro the other day which said it was an “almost indescribably odd act”. It is. It was. Both Mark and I laughed out loud: a rare thing.
  • Laurence Owen… with a spot-on song about how women’s roles are defined and limited in Walt Disney films – wonderfully complex and intelligent lyrics to a perfect pastiche of the whole gamut of Disneyesque tunes.
  • The Silver Peevil… top Matthew Bourne dancer Ewan Wardrop as his 1930s sci-fi Venusian character with a silver foil spaceship, a wry dismantling of sexism and (again) a perfect pastiche of a 1930s Hollywood song.
  • Two Pregnant Men – a new musical duo with three highly original rocked-up takes on internet trolls, supermarket cut-price deals and more. Not yer normal comedy act.
  • Wilfredo, Matt Roper’s extraordinary spittle-filled character cross between Barrie Humphries’ Sir Les Paterson and real-life Spanish heart-throb Julio Iglesias. I could barely hear this act at points because two women to my right were understandably screaming with laughter.
The bill for last night’s London show

The bill for last night’s South London show

And all of these acts were held together by the genuinely brilliant and charismatic compering skills of Lindsay Sharman who warmed the audience up by getting them to do whale and dolphin impressions (not a common technique) while she told a story – and who, at two points, shamelessly plugged her new novel by shoving copies in her bra. My eternally-un-named friend said to me: “She should be on television.”

Indeed she should. So should everyone on last night’s show.

Alas, ITV in particular is currently busy making disastrous remakes of 50-year-old formats. Who knows what misbegotten miscalculations Sunday Night at The Palladium will display tomorrow night as ITV continues to turn a silk purse into a dog’s dinner mishmash of decent acts and dumbed-down drossness.

I do not normally review shows as such because, in the medium and long term, it is a lose-lose situation for me. But the sheer brilliance of last night’s Pull The Other One show and the transient nature of live performance drew me to break my own rule. Well, the above was not really a review: it was more of a list. But hey-ho.

Sunday Night at The (apparently no longer London) Palladium is fair game for criticism because crass crap is always fair game. I could draw some obvious parallel between Sunday Night at The Palladium and putting an expensive iPhone into a cheap plastic food container, but it is too obvious.

The real talent, the really great comedy/variety shows at the moment are out there, transient, live and not on television.

I shall now try not to do anything remotely like a review for at least another twelve months.

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

One really annoying thing about last night was that I was enjoying the show so much I took no photographs. Your loss, not mine.

Incidentally, Ewan Wardrop aka The Silver Peevil (SPOILER ALERT!) does the opening to his act in quite a lengthy series of speeches in cod Venusian. He told me that, when he performed this act at Pull The Other One’s club in Leipzig earlier this month, a couple of Germans came up to the organisers after the show. “We liked the act,” they said, “but we were not able to understand some of what he said.”

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Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner attacked after Edinburgh awards show

So, last night, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held at the Counting House in Edinburgh as part of the Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe. The award winners were:

  • for Comic Originality – Candy Gigi
  • for best Cunning Stunt – Christian Talbot and 12 year-old daughter Kate
  • for Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid – Luisa Omielan

You can find more details about them in the blog I posted when the nominations were announced.

Miss Behave co-hosted Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

Miss Behave: co-host of Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

Most unexpected parts of the evening for me (apart from co-compere Miss Behave dragging me on-stage and setting the top of my head on fire (true) were a whole series of random comedians doing worryingly realistic 20-second imitations of comic Lewis Schaffer’s on-stage persona. In the ensuing chaos, Lewis Schaffer appeared to award himself a fish.

And, in the Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships (basically smashing eggs on your forehead), co-compere Janey Godley’s daughter Ashley Storrie (who agreed to compete a few weeks ago) withdrew because she remembered only yesterday afternoon that she is allergic to eggs… and Janey was (reluctantly and genuinely loudly protesting) forced to stand in and actually won the increasingly prestigious Scottish Egg Roulette title.

I will not mention exceptional singer Danusia Samal, Maori singer/dancer Mika with his gay haka, Doug Segal doing a Boy With Tape On His Face mind-reading act, Sharnema Nougar being almost dropped by three literally supporting comedians while she sang and played a ukelele, Lindsay Sharman as a Scottish poetess, Vladimir Putin singing gay anthem Ukrainian Men with a line about shooting planes down, Johnny Sorrow and his balaclava mystery man and Tim FitzHigham drinking a pint of lager through a bugle then playing The Last Post for Malcolm Hardee and Comedy in general.

Kate Copstick with Richard Herring last night (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

Kate Copstick (arm in sling) with Richard Herring last night (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

But I will mention that other Russian Egg Roulette contestants included Richard Herring and Juliette Burton. For the second year running, Juliette (a farmer’s daughter who reckons she can spot raw eggs from the aura round their shells) trounced Richard but came second – this year to Janey Godley.

The show probably finished around 1.30am, so lasted its normal two hours.

At 3.01am, I had a text message from worthy Cunning Stunt Award winner Christian Talbot.

Relevant to this might be the fact that, at yesterday afternoon’s Grouchy Club, critic Kate Copstick said another Edinburgh Fringe performer (surprisingly not Lewis Schaffer) had contacted her about a 3-star review she gave their show. The performer said they thought it deserved 4-stars. Her reaction was: Well, I did not and I am the reviewer. He told her bitterly: I think you took one star off me because of the content.

Well, yes, reviewers do tend to award stars and write their reviews on the basis of the perceived quality of the content. The same thing goes for giving increasingly prestigious awards.

Bear this in mind, dear reader.

Christian Talbot (centre) with his award, me & Kate Copstick

Christian Talbot (centre) with his award, me & Kate Copstick

Now back to award-winning Christian Talbot’s text to me at 3.01am this morning.

One of the other nominees in the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award category had been comedian Luke McQueen.

Christian Talbot’s text read:

Had Luke McQueen’s girlfriend grab my trophy off me in Brooke’s Bar (the Pleasance Dome venue’s bar for performers) and try to smash it. It’s not too damaged. What a lovely person she is.

I texted back: Are you sure it was his girlfriend?

She was with him and drunk, Christian replied. Not positive it was his ‘girlfriend’. Could have been a friend that is a girl. I can’t remember what he called her. She was very aggressive.

How did you know it was McQueen’s girlfriend or friend? I asked.

Christian replied: She was with him talking when I came in. I went to talk to him as I kind of know him. When I did, she grabbed the trophy from me. I assumed girlfriend as she was so aggressive with me.

How did McQueen react when she tried to smash the award? I asked.

He told her: “Oh, don’t do that.” He said congratulations to me, but that honestly he felt he should have won. Then I went home.

I forwarded Christian’s first message to fellow Malcolm Hardee Award judge Kate Copstick.

She texted back: Bloody hell! We made the right choice!

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Christian’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

I wholeheartedly agree. (Only one of the four Malcolm Hardee judges had initially voted for Luke McQueen, then changed their mind and went with Christian Talbot too.)

Meanwhile, outside the Fringe bubble…

Anyone who read my blog two days ago may remember a passing mention of my farting chum Mr Methane being invited (under his own name, so the sender would not have known he was Mr Methane) to a Christmas gig by Michael McIntyre at the Tower of London.

Yesterday, I received a very polite e-mail from Michael McIntyre’s agent Off The Kerb, saying: “I hope you’re well. I just wanted to drop you an email to let you know that the information posted on your blog re. Michael McIntyre performing at The Tower of London is completely false (blog post 21st August). Michael is not performing at this event.”

I have removed the reference from my previous blog.

Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart from his bottom

Mr Methane at a previous Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

When I forwarded the news to Mr Methane, he was gobsmacked.

“An elaborate scam,” said Mr Methane, “that seeks to ruin the good name and reputation of Michael McIntyre with fake offers for non-existent tickets starting at £1,500 for a non-existent Christmas gig? Keep me posted!”

Mr Methane is currently on his holidays away from showbiz and continued:

“I’ve been staying at Hartington in the Peak District where I’ve been trying out different makes of electric bicycles on the Monsal, Tissington & High Peak trails, I have now moved on to the Ramada Consort budget hotel at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster, which is ideally situated to visit the Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft which houses the world’s largest collection of historic trolleybuses.

“But its not an all-electric vacation, as finally I’m moving on to stay at Adlington, Cheshire, which is where my mum used to live during the war with grandad before she got married. It is also conveniently placed for a visit on Monday to the Anson Engine museum for a bit of diesel, steam and gas-powered stationary engine action.”

I can only dream of such a life.

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